EPUB: The final barrier for Kindle Adoption

Amazon's Kindle will emerge as the e-Reader market leader and prime content supplier for electronic books. But the company isn't doing anything to help improve content standardization.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Amazon's Kindle will emerge as the e-Reader market leader and prime content supplier for electronic books. But the company isn't doing anything to help improve content standardization.

With the doldrums of summer ones thoughts turn to backyard barbecues, suntans at the beach and lazy afternoons paging through pulp fiction novels, or in my case, technical publications I've been pushing to the back burner for the last several months. Indeed, I already have a few e-Reader devices, including an iPad and a few SONY readers, but the new Kindle 3 really has me contemplating a purchase.

After all, the Wi-Fi version is only $139.00, it's extremely light and compact and by all accounts has really good performance. Amazon has finally perfected the device with its third incarnation. Sure, I've been heavily critical of the company in the past, but with the price dropping (and inevitably, it will drop even more) even the most persnickety holdouts like myself will eventually capitulate and see it as a no-brainer purchase.

Android Tablets and iPads and other multifunction devices WILL eventually rule the roost, but until they iron out their sun glare issues, I'm not dragging one to the beach or sitting out on my deck with one and digging into a Sci-Fi novel anytime soon. And there is that nagging little battery life thing. No, I haven't forgotten about that either.

But there is one thing that's keeping me from whipping out the AMEX and clicking the "Buy Now" button at Amazon, and that's the lack of EPUB support.

Frankly, I really don't understand why Amazon would leave this out of their current generation of devices. I can understand why they would want to continue with AZW and their own DRM for content sold on their own store, but frankly, Amazon doesn't sell every electronic book that you can possibly buy.

I may want to go buy specialized content from say, O'Reilly, or Cisco Press, Pearson Education, and any other vendor doing educational books, which are all adopting the industry-standard EPUB format, which was established by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). And yes, I do realize many of these vendors also provide content in PDF format, which the Kindle can read, but lets face it, PDF isn't exactly an efficient format for electronic books.

Amazon's competitors, Barnes & Noble, SONY and Apple have embraced both DRM-free and DRM-enabled versions of EPUB. Arguably, in Apple's case, they're not using the Adobe Digital Editions implementation of EPUB DRM, and you can't move books purchased in iBooks to a Nook or an SONY eReader (although the other two platforms are able to do this, respectively) but they all use EPUB in their submissions process.

And you can't use library loaned EPUB books on a Kindle, like you can with both Nook and Sony. Apple, you shouldn't be slouching in this department either.

From the perspective of self-publishing, the toolsets that Amazon SHOULD be using and recommending for content creation would tend towards using the same ones that are used to produce EPUB books. I mean, there's no reason why Amazon should have to bake its own toolsets for generating the content in the first place, and my understanding is that they don't.

Even Apple, which is probably the most proprietary company in existence, points publishers towards a number of open tools and even Adobe's own InDesign software as part of the iBooks SDK to create EPUBs.

Then there's the issue that customers don't want to have to re-buy their content. Presumably, if you're a SONY eReader or a NOOK user, you don't want to have to take your entire library and have to re-buy it on the Kindle if you want to switch to that platform. Ideally, you'd like to take those DRM ePub files and just drag and drop them between the devices.

There's also the issue that I generate a lot of my own content. I strip websites and take various Office documents and turn them into EPUBs for archival purposes. I use the Open Source Calibre tool to convert all sorts of files into EPUB and I maintain a library of about 5000 documents and free books on it, all in EPUB. Calibre also has the ability to create personalized EPUB magazines based on RSS feeds and other public news sources, which is a feature I also use.

Arguably, I could use Calibre to produce the aging MOBI (Mobipocket) output, which the Kindle is able to read, but that complicates things far too much. I want to keep one format, for all of my ebook data. And I want it to be portable.

Amazon, it's time you join the EPUB club. And when you do, my AMEX and Prime subscription is ready.

Is lack of EPUB support holding you back from a Kindle 3 purchase? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Editorial standards